There's a certain triumph in those eyes, and its not because they have just scored a raft of victory points that push their cutesy wooden star up ten places on the victory point tracker. It's because the route that saw them get those points demonstrated that fundamentally, they now 'get it', and it's just the beginning of what's to come. Or in my case, the beginning of a sound thrashing by a 'pleased as punch' six year old.
There's a few games in the house that get into The List, which is more exclusive than the normal list of things we can do together. Games like Kingdomino and Rhino Hero Super Battle are on that list. Escape From Atlantis is on the list, Connect 4 and Gonuts for Donuts are on that list. They all share a commonality that they are relatively easy to teach in terms of access to play, but manage to be able to delve into complexity once you know the rules. They all have a two or three move choice that you need to know, but they have depth of strategy that you can learn in order to push the game to the next level. You could argue that could be said for most games, however I'd maybe struggle to get my son to fully grasp the instant tactics you need on Wildlands, and even Parks with its multiple cake like layers of choice, might prove to be too much for him. At the same time, he refuses to play kids versions of Cluedo and Monopoly for dumming down on what he can understand.
I want him to very much beat me on his own terms, without me having to potentially hold back. In fairness he's more aware of when I'm taking sub optimal moves to help him keep up, and often it will frustrate him if I'm not playing him as an equal. I've often taught him games by house ruling them, bringing in new mechanics slowly, and building up to incorporate the full rules. One of the choices I made when I first spoke to Coiledspring Games was to look at games I could play with my kids, as contrary to popular belief, children seem to be more predisposed to playing the same thing again and again for hours on end, while my older gaming group would rather play a game and then move on to play something else to cleanse the pallet of cardboard.
I know, I apologise, you're three paragraphs in and I've not even mentioned the game in the title, but it helps if you understand the environment surrounding me when I was playing Little Town, a scaled down worker placement and resource management game from IELLO, who on hitting their 15th year don't seem to be letting up on the titles they are releasing out to the wild. Little Town follows the same dedication to high production values, without resorting to full over production and bling for bling's sake, which seems to be an unfortunate MO for a few publishers nowadays. It looks cute, and the building illustrations are wonderfully small and detailed. The house and worker meeples really fit in with the country theme, and the whole game comes in a small box that isn't taking up too much room on your shelf.
The premise behind Little Town is simple, you're tasked with using workers to gather four available resources from the land in the form of stone, wood, wheat and fish. The food will be used to feed your workers, while the wood and stone can be used to construct buildings on the land. When you place a worker in an empty space, you collect everything in the eight spaces surrounding the place meeple and also activate any buildings that are in the surrounding spaces. You'll pay one coin for those buildings you don't own but want to use, and nothing for those which do belong to you.
Buildings can be constructed as long as you have the necessary required resources to make them and then can be placed on a board in an empty space. However, for that action, you place a worker in the construction space off the main board and will not be able to gather any resources for that meeple. Once everyone has played their meeples in turn order, you then have to make sure all of your workers are fed by using your gathered wheat and fish.
Things really start to get interesting once there are a few buildings in place, as each of the buildings have their own engine that you can put in effect. So one building might change coins into wood, or allow you to swap one resource for another, or change wheat into victory points. The key thing is that because your worker meeple will activate the surrounding eight squares in any order, it's possible to chain effects together in order to change one single resource into an easy six victory points. The only limit you might have is that buildings you don't own will require you to pay a single coin tariff to the owner of the building. It's a simple system that in later rounds can lead to some real pauses for thought, as you try to balance gaining victory points over food for your workers, over building materials and coins. Couple that with some achievement cards that can give you additional victory points based on certain conditions you achieve during the game, and you've got a real interesting mixture of scoring conditions to work with.
You've only got four rounds to play with, so you've got to work hard and smart if you want to rack up as many points as you can. On more than one occasion, my son insisted on playing just one more round as we kind of felt we hadn't finished the game fully to our satisfaction. Though in fairness, it was also to make sure that they could build a statue and net themselves a lovely ten points and crush me into the dust. That alone is testament to the fact we were happy to keep on playing, and shows that Little Town doesn't want to overstay it's welcome. Even though for some people, it might be a couple of rounds too short. Getting that mixture of having an accessible game and providing a challenge that is the tricky tightrope that Little Town has dared to tread and it almost gets it right.
It's not the balance as such, because everyone starts on the same even keel, it's more that it can be easy to ruin someone's game by making sure you dominate all of the spaces that provide coins as early in the game as possible. As the game goes on, you'll more than likely be wanting to use the powers of buildings you don't own, which will incur a simple one coin payment to the owner. If you don't have the coin then you can't use the opponent's building and you can be stuck unless you've aggressively made some buildings which other people want to use. Sometimes you might need to redraw the first tiles at the point of set up if you feel there isn't going to be enough coin producing buildings. It's either going to be a small source of frustration for some, or a potential major source of gripes for others. It can depend on the number of players involved as well, as the potential ownership for buildings can decrease and therefore you'll be handing over more coins to use their effects. Rest assured, it's not going to bring the game crashing off the table, but it is something to be wary of.
As with any bespoke engine building game, there is the option to create huge point salads in the last two rounds, which is illustrated in the fact that IELLO have provided a marker that can be used for those that reach over sixty points. There can be such a glorious contrast with the first round where you really just want to feed your workers and gather the basic building materials, to the last one where it can be like you've hit the jackpot and resources are raining down on you, like you're in Flashdance, but maybe unlike me, you have rhythm.
There's a very strong hint of Stonemaier here, as I'm reminded a little bit of one of my favourite games Viticulture, and it leads me to wonder if Charterstone hadn't been a legacy game, if we would have ended up with something akin to Little Town hitting the table. Don't be confused into thinking this is a game designed for kids. There's enough complexity and brain burning here for those looking for a worker placement game that doesn't stay on the table like your waiting for the trees and wheat to actually grow. What you have, is a fast paced delightful worker placement game where there's a strong chance that once you finish one game, you'll reset and start again straight away, and with a price tag that isn't cresting much over £25, you'll easily get your money's worth if you give Little Town a chance. My son appreciates a game that allows accessibility to those younger players without treating them like a child and it's slowly becoming our go to game after such a small period of time. It's glorious to look at and genuinely fun to play.
It's quite simply, the Little Town that could.
The Review copy of Little Town was provided to us by Coiledspring Games and you can visit their site on https://coiledspring.co.uk/
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